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The US is seeking sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iranian government elements to avoid hurting ordinary civilians, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday.
Responding Tuesday, Iran's foreign ministry welcomed the comments.
"We share the same idea with her. Deadlines are meaningless," spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.
The Obama administration has been tight-lipped about what punitive measures it would seek against Teheran, should diplomacy prove ineffective at preventing it from enriching uranium, as Iran rejected international deals for compromise. Clinton's statement Monday highlighted what she called the goal of these sanctions, as the US looks at ratcheting up pressure on Teheran, while trying not to hurt reformists demonstrating against the regime, which she accused of carrying out "ruthless repression."
Clinton also acknowledged that diplomatic efforts had not yielded the results the administration was looking for, saying that "the results of our efforts to engage Iran directly have not been encouraging."
She added that the US was "disappointed" by the Iranian rejection of the international proposal, whereby the Islamic Republic would have shipped much of its low-enriched uranium abroad for processing.
"We have already begun discussions with our partners and with like-minded nations about pressure and sanctions," Clinton said. "Our goal is to pressure the Iranian government, particularly the Revolutionary Guard elements, without contributing to the suffering of ordinary [Iranians], who deserve better than what they currently are receiving."
While Israel is pleased to see the US engaging international allies on enhanced sanctions, and see the Guards as a crucial target given its role in military actions at home and abroad, more focused measures fall short of the "crippling sanctions" Israel has said it would like to see. In addition, Clinton stressed that opportunity to choose diplomacy was still there and that the US doesn't use the term deadline when speaking of its Iran posture.
Though White House spokesman Robert Gibbs did recently use the term deadline, he was speaking in the context of the low-enriched uranium deal brokered by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran was given until December 31 to accept. The US has generally referred to a policy of "reviewing" the results of engagement at the end of the year.
"We have avoided using the term deadline," Clinton said, "because we want to keep the door to dialogue open. But we've also made it clear we can't continue to wait."
She was speaking at a joint press conference with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, which starts off a round of US talks with Arab leaders this month that is also focused on efforts to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Clinton is meeting with top Egyptian officials on Friday as the pace of efforts to restart talks picks up. she stressed America's interest that talks start immediately, adding, "We're going to be even more committed this year" to the process.
Monday's meeting with Hamad bin Jassem came amid reports that the US is looking to Arab states to help press the Palestinians to come to the table, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israel without a full settlement freeze.
At the press conference, the Qatari leader said that the Arab world was ready to assist.
"All of us, we are ready to help," he said, adding later that Qatar would continue to give aid to the PA.
But Hamad bin Jassem also raised the issue of forming a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas as a necessary condition for peace talks to make progress.
"The most important things is how we can do a unity government between the Palestinians so they can concentrate how to deal in the peace process," he said. Clinton was not asked about the issue during the press conference.
Though the Obama administration has been more open to a Palestinian unity arrangement, but has not emphasized the issue in the recent efforts to relaunch talks, Qatar ran afoul of the previous administration for trying to mediate talks that would see Hamas return to the PA. Qatar has faced criticism from some quarters for playing all sides, which have included closer ties to both Israel and Iran than many other Arab countries.
But that also helps Qatar play an important role in brokering disputes, and Hamad bin Jassem also expressed willingness to help with the conflict in Yemen, which has elevated into what some in the US and Sunni Arab world see as a proxy war with Iran, which faces accusations of aiding the rebels fighting the Yemen government.
Clinton sharpened US rhetoric on the issue Monday when she called the conflict there one with "global implications," as were "the ongoing efforts by al-Qaida in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region."
Yemen was the site of training received by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before he attempted to blow up a plane heading to Detroit. The US has charged that al-Qaida was connected to the attack, and Clinton said the US Embassy in Yemen would be closed until "security conditions permit" based on threats posed by al-Qaida.
AP contributed to this report.